Marine Tanguy: “London felt like a world of possibilities.”

Marine Tanguy: “London felt like a world of possibilities.”

French–born, London–based Marine Tanguy is challenging the status quo of how the art world invests in new talent. After growing up on a remote island in France, Marine moved to London without speaking English. Now clocking over a decade in the city, Marine is bringing her son up there, and was awarded the Forbes 30 Under 30 for her entrepreneurial company MTART Agency that she founded in 2015. The company tagline, “We don’t invest in art, we invest in artists,” explains why MTArt is agitating the way artists and their art are valued. Marine has fostered major brand partnerships with Aston Martin, Nike and Chloé and has created a healthy dose of egalitarian public art projects. We speak to Marine about being the figurehead of a disruptive brand and finding home in London.

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On creative life in London 

I moved to London as an au pair when I was 19 years old. The hardest thing by far was the language as I didn’t speak English. I spent hours walking and cycling around the city to take it all in. That’s why public art ideas come to me so easily now — I know the city inside out. I’ve realised how much I love the scale of London and how different one corner is to the next, from Camden to Dulwich and beyond. 

On why you love London

I’ve spent my most formative years here. When I moved to London, it felt like a world of possibilities — it was exciting, thriving and fun. Right now, London matches my values; a place that welcomes diversity and new ideas. But I see the city changing a lot and hope it doesn’t just become a place for the wealthy. For me, the city offers a perfect mix of European and US cultures; a laissez-faire atmosphere matched with a level of ambition that’s not too extreme. I’m surrounded by people who can make my ideas happen quickly but I can still happily sit in a café with a book and be left in peace. 

On how a remote upbringing teaches patience 

A lot of people in my team at MTArt come from the countryside and we always joke that this is incredibly unusual for our sector. A remote upbringing has enabled me to be patient; my journey to school was long and tedious, now I can walk around the corner to a supermarket and I don’t take it for granted. It puts perspective on being a part of a generation that wants everything now. Also, because the landscape was beautiful but I didn’t have a particularly happy home, I was always looking beyond — to art, dance, the sea, nature, any escape possible. 

Above: Delphine Diallo’s ‘Infinite’ portrait from 2017. Below: Mahtab Hussain’s ‘Everyday Heroes’ at the Southbank Centre in London. Images courtesy MTAart Agency.

On the importance of breaking the rules 

I’ve always found it difficult to follow rules. I can never do exactly what I’m asked; I make it my own. Even when working out, I do my own interpretation of an exercise class. To me, that’s what creativity is all about. Thanks to my grandparents, I feel like I was more influenced by the school of life than by traditional education. They helped me think outside the box. I accepted a place to study History of Art at the University of Warwick, but I dropped out after two years because I felt quite restricted. I had already started working for a gallery on the side. I don’t do well when confined to the traditional way of doing things, like many entrepreneurs. 

For me, the city offers a perfect mix of European and U.S. cultures; a laissez-faire atmosphere matched with a level of ambition that’s not too extreme.

On putting a price on art

I have had to constantly argue for the value of creativity and justify myself. Even in school, I was pushed towards science and maths as art was not seen as a serious subject. I had to learn how to argue art’s case and how to position it as a viable career. When I first started MTArt Agency, public art was not paid for. In the past five years I’ve worked hard to change that. 

On finding and supporting artists

Our selection committee has a review process which identifies artists who mirror our values. Every month, we review 200 portfolios. Nowadays, it’s not just down to me or my taste and my relationships with the artist — I have a wider team who I trust to make those decisions. When we’re looking at taking on a new artist, we always see it as a long-term relationship. Generally, we avoid people who are only thinking short term and demonstrate a fear of hard work. For the artists who sign with us, we cover their studio costs, sell their works, implement cultural and commercial partnerships, and offer press exposure. This is how we accelerate their artistic reputation, visibility and success. 

Above: Delphine Diallo x Regent Street public art exhibition that occupied 12 meters of shopfront in the heart of London’s retail district. Below: Vigo Street and Conduit Street x Léo Calliard and Àsìkò to bring life to shops that have struggled since the COVID-19 outbreak. Images courtesy MTArt Agency.

On seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to create 

We currently have nine public art projects across London and another eighteen coming up worldwide. It’s been a hugely creative time and it has given us the opportunity to reinforce the importance of public art. Of course, all of our artists have reacted differently, some have thrived, but it’s really about their ability to handle pressure. Sadly, I’ve learnt that this is largely down to the support system available to them. This period has taught me how to use my instinct even more and notice when someone needs help. 

When I first started MTArt Agency, public art was not paid for. In the past five years I’ve worked hard to change that. 

On moving neighborhoods

I have recently relocated to an amazing part of London, in between Marylebone and Mayfair. I’ve fallen in love with the area. I moved here primarily for the galleries as there are so many fantastic, little art venues within walking distance of each other, such as the Gagosian. But my favourite is The Wallace Collection — you can’t help but be impressed by the grandeur of the building. Also, not many people know that there’s a farmers’ market in Marylebone on a Sunday morning and it’s become a weekend tradition for me. 

On bringing up your son with different cultural influences 

My son Atlas is a huge inspiration to me. I didn’t take maternity leave so I try to involve him in every aspect of my life. I work hard to make sure French language is present in his life, whether that’s through storybooks or bringing him into a brainstorm with my French colleagues! He was born into an explosion of different environments and cultures — I have no doubt that he will be able to take it all on with ease. 

Above: Marine Tanguy has given several TEDx Talks, including about how artists can shape our cities. Middle: Marine with her artists, including in front of Àsìkò’s work and with Saype. Below: Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. Images courtesy MTArt Agency.

On forgoing taste in favor of expertise

I think taste is where the art world has gone wrong. It’s built upon privileges because a person’s parents have exposed them to certain things when they were a child, whereas anyone can learn expertise if they dedicate time to it. I’m writing a book called Our Visual Diet, which offers a toolkit on how to address art and find what’s best for you. I talk about colors and how they make you feel; the composition and where your eyes are drawn to first; the scale of the piece; the context of when and where you see it. It’s about the impact that a diverse range of visuals can have on you — which is far greater than that of words. 

On the importance of empathy

Working with my artists throughout the pandemic, I’ve learnt that resilience is innate and therefore unequal. Of course there are ways to build it up, but it’s largely down to your character. Part of my job is to empower those who need more support. Not everyone is going to be able to paint a huge canvas in response to this global crisis. 

Working with my artists throughout the pandemic, I’ve learnt that resilience is innate and therefore unequal… Part of my job is to empower those who need more support. Not everyone is going to be able to paint a huge canvas in response to this global crisis. 

On the ones to watch 

David Aiu Servan-Schreiber has launched a new series called Fever, which is all about the impact of climate change, it’s subtle and a real step up for him. If you want to feel like you’re traveling, look at Saype who has released biodegradable public art paintings in Cape Town. When I need strength, it’s always Delphine Diallo, who is guaranteed to put you in the right mental space.  Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark is fantastic and she’s so young! It’s my dream for her to make a public sculpture; the way she portrays women is incredible. 

Above: The works of French painter David Aiu Servan-Schreiber. Below: Marine at home in London beneath a Lauren Baker artwork. Images courtesy MTArt Agency.

On looking elsewhere for inspiration 

Beyond London, I love Tel Aviv which is where I discovered Jennifer Abessira and Leni Dothan. Of course New York is amazing, specifically Brooklyn. Buenos Aires is also super cool — check out Elisa Insua. 

On a window or an aisle seat

Definitely window! 

On London in one word 

Wise. 

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Nuggets in this interview

need to know

Cycling, London

“I cycle everywhere in London and it’s the best way to see the city. You can find scenic and safe cycle routes online.”

–Marine Tanguy

inspiration

Queen Mary’s Garden, London

“A burst of nature in the middle of London.”

–Marine Tanguy

need to know

Secret London

“Keep an eye on local listings for new art exhibitions, which are updated regularly. I love Secret London and Time Out.”

–Marine Tanguy

inspiration

The Gagosian, London

“There are so many fantastic, little art venues within walking distance of each other, such as the Gagosian.”

–Marine Tanguy

inspiration

The Wallace Collection, London

"My favourite is The Wallace Collection — you can’t help but be impressed by the grandeur of the building."

–Marine Tanguy

need to know

Public Art, London

“The best place to start is our own tour as you get to see our work in the flesh.”

–Marine Tanguy

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